Creative early childhood education grows in Zambia, plans to expand
By Jillian Slutzker
January 11, 2019
LUSAKA, Zambia – Though students are on a break, head teacher Gertrude Chitanda is at school making sure the materials and classrooms are ready when 30 preschoolers return for the next session. As head teacher of Mimi’s Place, a first-of-its-kind early childhood education center, Chitanda is responsible for ensuring these young students are prepared to enter the first grade and have a good time in the process.
Opened in February 2016, Mimi’s Place is based on a learn-through-play methodology called “The Creative Way.” Three-, four-, and five-year-olds gain skills in literacy, numeracy, reasoning as well as social skills through games, puzzles, hands-on activities and play.
“We make it easy for the children to learn,” says Chitanda. “We always start with play, and then we go to learning. If the kids can’t learn something for a long time they get bored, so we keep them active and learning.”
The Creative Way teaching methodology utilizes children’s innate predisposition for learning and provides guidelines for the physical space of the learning environment, as well as teaching pedagogy, curriculum and learning assessments.
“Parents feel the environment is conducive to their kids’ learning,” says Chitanda.
Growing in Zambia and beyond
Originally developed by Creative Associates International as a benefit to staff of the Creative-implemented Read to Succeed program, which was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Mimi’s Place has since expanded to include the children of civil servants, parents and friends of the original class of families, and others.
The 2016 class numbered 15 students. Today, enrollment is up to 30. The staff has grown from two teachers to three to accommodate the increase of students.
Chitanda says word of mouth has been their best sources of boosting enrollment.
“The growth is just tremendous,” she says. “We have made many parents happy with us. It was started for the benefit of Creative employees, but their relatives started seeing the improvement in their children and inquiring if they could join.”
To date, six graduates of Mimi’s Place have moved on to first grade and their parents report back to Chitanda that they are performing better than their peers, thanks to the strong foundation in literacy and numeracy the school provided.
Chitanda, who helped launch the school with the support of Creative staff and then-Chief of Party for Read to Succeed Tassew Zewdie, has been the head teacher of the school since its inception, but she is not slowing down. She hopes to welcome more students and dreams of rolling out the Creative Way methodology to government schools.
“I feel like Mimi’s Place is my own so I need to dedicate everything that is needed. I love the work,” she says.
With the success of Mimi’s Place in Zambia, Creative plans to expand. In the coming years, it aims to open branches of the preschool in Honduras and Ethiopia as a benefit to staff, the same way the school began in Zambia.